The Coming Micro-States

The effects of Montenegro’s recent independence and Kosovo’s predicted independence are already rippling far beyond the Balkans. If Montenegro, a geographically small country of some 600,000 people, can achieve independence, why too shouldn’t others such as South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karbagh or Transdniestria? Podogorica’s precedent may have indeed set a dangerous precedent for oppressed minorities everywhere. A recent CS Monitor article began looking at a coming wave of micro-states, all formerly part of the Soviet Union. This post will build on that theme.

The Caucasus, home of good food, wine, beautiful mountains and once the Golden Fleece, is also home to a handful of frozen ethnic conflicts. However, they are beginning to thaw. We’re about to witness the second round of the post-Soviet circus. Most readers are already familiar with the breakup of the USSR. Internal republics opted out of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics instantly outdating a map we’d used for decades. Some were large, some were small and uknown. Others had vast natural resources and some only environmental destruction thanks to Moscow. Satellite states made out the best, most having already joined the EU and NATO. But inside many of the newly independent states were yet more, this time being autonomous areas. The example, currently most famous, is Kosovo which was an autonomous province within Serbia. We are all well aware of what followed not long after Serbia revoked that status. Despite international focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the Caucasus is now in danger of being the next disaster zone. The future conflicts will be Abkhazia and S. Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karbagh in Armenia/Azerbaijan.

The questions arising from Montenegro’s successful referendum are threatening the stability of a number of areas. Transdniestria has already decided to hold one and other breakaway region won’t wait long to follow. Kosovars are left scratching their heads wondering why their neighbors are allowed to hold a referendum but they aren’t.

Thus, events in Montenegro have created a system-perturbation which has governments and international bodies asking how to continue. A new rule-set is needed for dealing with self-determination and territorial integrity, two often conflicting principles which are often presented as complimentary. What would a new international rule-set for independence look like? Let’s start with Montenegro. The first rule is that some guarantor power is needed. The EU established the guidelines and set the numbers for Montenegro’s independence to be officially recognized. Next come the details. To realistically become one’s own state, a wide range of conditions must be present to ensure viability, security and stability.

Independence from A to Z

1) Find a guarantor power
2) Win a clean and fair referendum overseen by said power
3) Be of a certain geographica size
4) Have a minimum number of citizens
5) Able to effectively assume state functions
6) Settle all border disputes and conflicts with neighbors peacefully
7) Possess enough financial and/or natural resources to survive

The problem comes in defining the above criteria in detail. Exactly how many citizens are necessary? Montenegro has 600,000 while Andorra has only 67,000; Lichtenstein only 34,000; and San Marino only 28,000. Enough examples of functioning micro-states already exist, yet they are already integrated into the European Union which is another situation entirely. How much land does one need for a country? A tiny island like Malta? A small hill like San Marino? A corner of an island like East Timor? And let’s not forget Singapore, scarcely more than a city.

As for finances, consider Kosovo:

According to a World Bank study released in 2005, some 15% of Kosovo’s population live in extreme poverty [ie live on 0.93 euro per day]. Only half of the province’s households are connected to a central water system, and just 28% to a sewerage system. The rate of unemployment is around 65%.

Despite independence being a foregone conclusion, how viable does that really sound? Even when Kosovar independence comes and is hailed in the news, international troops will still be in it for the long haul. At this point, with Kosovo already unofficially separate from Serbia, the most important changes won’t come from the ballot box.

Robert Kaplan has said democracy is best when it comes last because in order to have a real functioning democracy, functioning institutions and a solid middle class are necessary. Many of the same conditions are necessary for independence. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said last week tat “The resolution on Kosovo will create a precedent in international law that will later be applied to other frozen conflicts.” He’s right, the question is whether other aspiring states and their neighbors will follow that precedent or not.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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19 Responses to The Coming Micro-States

  1. Younghusband says:

    The “UNPO”: is a great source for potential micro states.

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  3. As to a system perturbation, is there really a lot of worldwide awareness of this event, and its possible implications? The invasion of Iraq was Prime Time as far as media coverage. Montenegrin independence is scarcely on that scale. Or am I mistaken on this?

    I would think the EU government would like to see all the existing European states disintegrate into regional units, or smaller. Then there would be nothing left to challenge it.

    Less cynically, it makes sense to be a breakaway state in Europe, under EU supervision. No one is going to come in and massacre you, probably. Slovakia was in the same situation. For a memorable non-European scenario, Katanga tired to secede from the Congo, once upon a time, with less than jolly results. Similar efforts in Gap locations are likely to be met with similar viciousness. A low-tech version of the Chechnya war is likely a better model for potential Caucasian secessions than Montenegro is.

  4. IJ says:

    _What would a new international rule-set for independence look like?_

    Events! There is already a rule set called the UN Charter. The “spat yesterday about whether an imperial power is subject the global rules”: must surely be resolved first.

  5. James Bowery says:

    The UN Charter is garbage for the purpose of newly emerging microstates. It is geared entirely to maintaining existing soverignties via a laundry list of vague and therefore selectively enforced “human rights” as a counter to the tyranny of the majority within those sovereignties. This Hobbesian notion of the Leviathan state is enshrined in the UN Charter and it solves nothing but the maintanence of current authority structures and the fueling of continual violence resisting them.

  6. IJ says:

    The agreed procedure for making “amendments”: to the global rule set (UN Charter) is laid out at Chapter XVIII.

    Article 108 says:
    _Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council._

    There are 191 members of the United Nations. Moreover successful amendments need the support of all five permanent members of the SC (China, France, Russia, UK and US).

    The UN has been much under attack recently, especially for condemning the actions at Guantanamo Bay on grounds of human rights.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I think that you should give each of your factors a certain number of points (weighted) and then have a minimum total for statehood. You might have few people, but if you have a whole lot of diamonds, all your people are highly skilled (most can be managers and are landowners), and you have a really great guarantor power, then you’re cool. Think: Dubai, Monaco, etc.

    But on the other hand, you might be very poor, but be huge and have a huge number of citizens, most of whom are not educated. Sheer number will help you out.

  8. IJ says:

    It has been argued that 9/11 made formal changes to the UN Charter unnecessary. Many aspects of international law no longer exist. “Interpreting global law”:,,25346-2174060,00.html

  9. Bill Wood says:

    *1) Find a guarantor power*

    Here, we in the West are missing a big opportunity to engage the new and emerging states. They are looking for help – any help, and not necessarily material help – and support. An active involvement by a small team of “system administrators” can provide it. The cost, politically and monetarily, is much less than what it would otherwise cost to be a guarantor power.

    Fortunately, there are some in the think tanks and at the fringes of government who get it. The biggest name in this field is probably professor Michael P. Scharf at the “Public International Law & Policy Group”: which has provided “out of the box” thinking to help new and emerging states like “Montenegro”: and “Nagorno-Karabakh”:

    International Crisis Group (ICG) took “Kosovo”: under its wing as early as 1998.

    International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty (ICDISS) is currently involved with “Transnistria”:

    There are others, too. Taken together, these groups can be more creative and daring with their solution proposals than traditional guarantor powers. This, in turn, allows them to work on a closer, more intimate level with the new and emerging states, for a higher degree of trust. The investment is small and the benefit is potentially as good or better as the traditional guarantor state approach.

    Inspired by Scharf, there are now another four or five other teams who are also beginning to work in the same field. It is worth keeping an eye on how it works out because it could be the way for the West to gain leverage when other doors are otherwise closed. If the approach is ignored, we in the West are missing a big opportunity to engage the new and emerging states.

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  13. “Your precious Sealand is no more!”:

  14. Chirol says:

    I wonder if there are any post-Katrina oil rigs in the Gulf I could turn into Chirolistan.

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